Small-scale farmers produce food for 70% of the global population. Yet, they are some of the world’s poorest and most food insecure people.
Agroecology, a farming approach that mimics natural ecosystems, is an alternative method that can produce more food using fewer resources. Small-scale farmers in Africa have used agroecology to more than double crop yields within 3 to 10 years of implementation, according to the UN special rapporteur on the right to food. Farmers also use agroecology to improve soil fertility, adapt to climate change, and reduce farming input costs.
Permaculture, a contraction of permanent agriculture, is a promising design system for the application of agroecology. It was developed in Australia in the 1970s based on agroecology and indigenous farming systems. In practice, permaculture farms are organic, low-input, and biodiverse, and use techniques like intercropping trees, planting perennials, water harvesting, and resource recycling.
Permaculture programmes are more multifunctional than typical agricultural development programs. This is important given the growing call for “triple-win solutions” for agriculture, health, and environmental sustainability.
Despite the potential of permaculture and agroecology, mainstream agriculture continues to focus on conventional techniques. There are a number of reasons why permaculture has not been more widely adopted, or even considered.
First, the small-scale, grassroots nature of permaculture, while part of its strength, has contributed to its slow dissemination and minimal visibility.
Second, permaculture is a design system, rather than an easily replicated model, which makes it more difficult to teach and adopt than a typical agriculture project. Further, permaculture challenges how governments and NGOs usually teach people to farm. Indigenous farming knowledge, like that used in permaculture, has been devalued and eroded with the imposition of monocropping and green revolution technologies.
Third, scepticism remains over whether people’s food needs can be met using organic, labour intensive, small-scale farming. To date, there has not been enough rigorous research on permaculture to evaluate its impact, its application on a large scale, or to support its adoption. Academia has not seriously engaged with permaculture, and there are no companies with a profit incentive to research and disseminate it.
Permaculture has thus remained marginal, and many see it as idealistic and impractical.
The permaculture community can help encourage and support the use of permaculture, by raising its visibility, disseminating successful project models, and conducting more research.
Ref: Abigail Conrad is a PhD candidate in anthropology at American University in Washington, DC, and is certified in permacul ture design. This content is based on an article in Guardian Professional